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March 27, 2007

Kenyan tea farmers urged to use mechanized pruning

The Kenya Tea Research Foundation (KTRF) has urged small-scale tea growers to use machines to prune tea bushes.

"Mechanized pruning should be adopted by farmers as it is not a preserve of multinational tea companies and is cheaper than manual pruning," said foundation director Dr. Wilson Rono. He said it costs Sh5,432 ($78) to manually prune an acre of 4,306 bushes using a hand knife, while it costs Sh1,418 ($20) if a pruning machine is used.

Rono told farmers at a field day that a tea pruning machine costs about Sh40,000 ($580) and users of these machines are not exposed to the risk of injuries. "Using pruning machines results in reduction of die-backs, ensures good recovery of the bush and uniform rejuvenation," Rono said.

In 2006 there was a storm in the tea industry when Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU) opposed the introduction of tea plucking and pruning machines by multinational tea companies. A protest organised by COTU paralysed operations in the industry for a number of days. Despite the protests, Unilever Tea Kenya, James Finlay and Sotik Highlands Tea use pruning machines on their vast estates.

James Finlay Tea officials confirmed that their pruning machines have been in use for more than four years. They said the machines were effective, safe for the workers to use and spurred faster growth of tea bushes. One company executive said manual pruning exposes the tea bushes to damage, thus retarding growth as water seeps in through the cracks. It also
harms the bushes by exposing the cut sections to direct sun rays. Pruning tea bushes manually involves the use of a special knife or saw to cut or reduce their height.

A Unilever Tea Kenya spokesman also said they had been using mechanized pruning for the last three years in the company's vast estates. He said 25 per cent of the company's 8,300 hectares are pruned with machines.

The Standard

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